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Lavender-blue gleam of wild chicory
Ground squirrels taking the pulse of the day
Enduring green shade of faithful old oaks
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I quite surprised myself by getting out of bed before 7 this morning. (I know, I know - most of you laudable ladies are up before 5 and have all your housework done by 6. I, however, am not a laudable lady who riseth while it is yet night - I am an owl who likes to stay up late and sleep late.)
Only the current weather trend, and my determination to ride more than 30 miles, would get me out of bed this early on a Sunday. As is was, by the time I had cooked (and eaten) a hearty breakfast, watered all my plants against the heat ahead, anointed my limbs with sunblock and bug deterrent, donned the requisite Lycra, and gathered the various impedimenta necessary for the ride - water bottles, sunglasses, camera, cell phone, keys, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all - it was after 8 when I finally hit the road.
And a very hot, sticky road it is today - temps are still under 80º when I leave the house, but the air is very humid and uncomfortable. (Note to self: set alarm for 6 am next Sunday.)
My route today takes me down a main highway for several miles, so I'm not able to stop and take a picture of the wild chicory that lines the road. (This beautiful flower seems to thrive on the busiest roadsides, where it's least convenient, and not very safe, to stop and admire.) Like shy stars, the chicory shines brightest at the edge of one's vision - it positively beams a deep periwinkle as I ride past.
Adorable thirteen-lined ground squirrels are standing at the edge of the brush, noses up, tiny front paws dangling. One by one they dive for cover at my approach, squeaking a warning to their brethren ahead. (According to Wikipedia, these little guys are "especially active on warm days". Gopher it, I say.)
The sun is hot and bright - not a cloud in the sky to soften its heat. As soon as I turn off the main highway I get a good shadow shot:
The air is filled with the faintly sweet aroma of dried grasses and wildflowers - a sort of compound of hay and potpourri. Across the fields is an old farmstead. The house (on the right) looks a bit like a face:
Detail of a barn foundation:
Wild phlox are still to the fore, although they're beginning to dry out a bit. Look at the curly pale-pink stamens in the left-hand blossom below:
Drought or no, the ragweed is green and flourishing (darn it). Soon it will blossom and cast a pall over the lives of allergy sufferers everywhere.
Delicate mauve clouds of knapweed fill the ditches.
The birch leaves' rustle has turned to a rattle in this drought ... but the trees are still beautiful.
Just across from the birch, several wild parsnips tower from the verge. They're taller than I am, but since they're between me and the sun, it's hard to get a good shot.
They do make a lovely silhouette against the sky.
As I pass this pasture, the dark horse is pawing the ground in an attempt to find something edible. Most summers this field is green and lush; not this year.
An unidentified bird (mourning dove?) contemplates life.
A welcome patch of shade provides a glimpse into this cathedral of pines.
Lush blossom-head of Queen Anne's Lace...
...with dark velvet at its heart.
I do love a bend in the road. You never know what beauty might be waiting around the corner.
Sandhill cranes are making the most of the stubble fields. (The soybeans just below them were lush and green a few weeks ago; now they're withering. We so desperately need rain.)
An empty hay wagon takes a well-earned Sunday rest.
A bit further down, I stop to take a photo of these coneflowers...
...and find when I get back on the bike that I've picked up a passenger. I love the tiny shadow of his antennae.
My route takes me back to the main highway, and past a favourite barn I've never before been able to photograph (we usually pass it in the car at about 55 miles per hour). Today I get my chance and snap it on the fly.
After 2 miles of more traffic than I'm used to, I turn off on another country road. Ahead is my goal for this ride: a short climb...
...then a long descent into a most beautiful valley. (None of my pictures do it justice today. I'll just have to come back another time.)
The barn picture below is a good example of what many of my on-the-fly photos look like before tweaking. (I decided to leave this one untweaked. Do I really hold the camera that crookedly? Guess so.)
The day is now horridly hot and sticky. My route takes me onto another major highway, which kills all desire to take photos for several miles. At last I'm back on a country road; time for a pause in the shade of these oaks. Helmet off, a long drink of water, and a shot of the sun shining down through the leaves.
I'm so very grateful for shady trees.
About 10 miles to go now, and the desire to take pictures is giving way to the desire for rest and relief from the sun. But I have to snap this little birdhouse hanging from a fencepost:
A glimpse of the county power plant, with a hard-to-see tractor working in the field below. In the distance I hear cows lowing mournfully. "Shaaaaade, shaaaaaade," they seem to be begging.
These ducks are enjoying a bit of shade and a refreshing swim in their own little pool. I'd love to join them if there weren't a fence between us.
I pass an extremely tidy-looking barn (although I think it would look nicer with grass around it rather than concrete):
A very Little-House-on-the-Prairie-ish view. (Here the theme music from the television show starts playing in my head and continues for the rest of the ride.)
Okay, it's HOT. I'M hot. And sticky, and tired, and really ready to be home. The last few miles are simply an exercise in determination. On the plus side, a few clouds have moved in, and a strong breeze is blowing which just keeps me from melting.
One last stop, right outside town, to snap this cloud of Queen Anne's Lace next to the road...
...then home at last. Thank God for a shady house, and cool running water to bathe in.
All in all, a good ride - but while this weather lasts I do need to start even earlier in the day.
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